Month: January 2014

Last week in gorgeous Tasmania…

I only realized yesterday I never filled you all in on my trip to Tassie last week with Katie that I met in the Hunter Valley.  I took an early early morning flight (I left the house at 4:15 a.m.) for my direct flight to the charming small city of Hobart (direct flights are the way to go, unless you want to spend 6 hours in transit when the flight from Sydney to Hobart is 2).  I got to town really early and couldn’t check in to the YHA there, so I had a few hours to walk around.  I had heard about Lark Distillery, and as I am keen on a good bourbon or whisk(e)y now and again, I was eager to visit–lo and behold, it was a whole two blocks from the hostel!  Their website said they only did tours around 2 or 2:30, but I dropped in and asked and they put me in a tour happening at 12:30 that day.  I had a quick lunch before returning for the “tour,” which was a little informal for my taste.  Not only does the distillery do whiskeys, but they do gin and vodka as well.  The whiskeys were not at all what I was used to, but I enjoyed them all the same and bought some as a souvenir.  Later that evening, Katie and I met up for dinner in Salamanca Place, a strip full of bars and restaurants just near the Brooke St wharf.

The next day, Katie and I got breakfast and decided to visit the world-renowned MONA, or Museum of Old and New Art.  I had heard that the ferry ride alone was amazing, and it was pretty great.  It’s oddly swanky for a ferry, which makes it all the more fun, and the scenery is gorgeous as well.  It’s…an interesting place.  I’ve never been much for contemporary “art,” and this was no exception.  I actually found the place to be just plain freaky and weird on the inside.  Lunch time came around and we made our way to the wine bar and sat outside, as it was a phenomenal day.  On one side, the building was bordered by vines, on another, an open field with a giant stage featuring a live jazz band (on a Wednesday afternoon, even!) and dozens upon dozens of cushions welcoming people to grab a drink and get comfy.  I was bushed by the time Katie and I got back to the YHA, and I still needed to move from there to The Pickled Frog, a place with a ton of character (as well as cheap coffee and beer–essentials for hostellers!).

Thursday morning Katie and I had breakfast at Doctor Coffee again before she flew back to Melbourne.  I had booked a cruise to Peppermint Bay, which included a multi-course lunch once we got there.  It was a fabulous day to be on the water.  The boat was nice, lunch was delicious, and I chatted with some friendly folks as we ate.

I had booked two tours that would keep me occupied for the whole of Friday, and I had saved the best for that morning.  The Pickled Frog provided a free shuttle up Mount Wellington on Wednesdays, but as Katie and I had gone to MONA, I had missed out, so I opted to book a bus tour up the mountain and around town instead.  Mount Wellington is situated adjacent to Hobart, so climbing up the mountain, you get brilliant views of the city.  Being on the mountain was absolutely breathtaking.  There were almost no clouds, just a slight haze over the surrounding area.  In the afternoon, another tour took me to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary for me to see the local fauna, including Tasmanian devils (what’s a trip to Tassie without seeing them, right?).

Saturday morning I was up early enough to get breakfast and wander around the market at Salamanca Place.  The markets didn’t actually open until 9, by which time I’d already be back at the airport, but I did manage to procure a local dark chocolate-macadamia nut bar for myself and a pretty nice Tasmanian devil stuffed animal for a friend.

I was really glad Katie had invited me to Tasmania, as otherwise I might not have gone.  To be honest, I’m a bit burned out on hostelling and living out of a suitcase, and so I’m heading back to the States at the end of the month.  But Tasmania was a fantastic place to take one last trip before going home.  Thanks Katie!

Until next time!

Holiday adventures

For Christmas, I had no plans (being away from family and friends is hard, y’all), so when I read that the Sydney BridgeClimb operated on Christmas day, I knew I had to sign up.  I’d been to Sydney twice before and hadn’t done it and had been kicking myself ever since that first trip in 2001.  I was hoping the weather would be good, and while that didn’t quite pan out the way I’d hoped it would, the experience was still awesome.

It was completely overcast and a little rainy that day, but I quickly came to realize this was far preferable to a hot summer day.  Before putting on our jumpsuits, one of the employees advised that since it was so humid outside, if we were wearing full-length pants or jeans, we should take them off before putting on the jumpsuits.  Was not expecting that, but it makes sense.  We spent maybe half an hour gearing up with belts (which feature a slider to connect you to a super-strength cable on the bridge), radios, and rain jackets.

When we finally emerged from the catwalks under the bridge (they can be a bit of a tight squeeze!), I definitely had a moment where I thought, “Holy s$#@, I’m climbing on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.”  Sure, tons of other people have done it too, but it’s still really cool to see the city from that point of view.  You see the traffic below you on the bridge, ships passing by–we even saw a giant cargo ship about to pass under the bridge.  It’s too bad you can’t take pictures of your own; you aren’t allowed to bring anything with you. You can’t even wear a watch.  What you wear has to be strapped to the jumpsuit or belt.

The following Friday, I left for the Hunter Valley.  If you’re like me and don’t want to drive yourself around, well, tough luck.  It took me about 7.5 hours, partially because public transportation (which you can take to get from Sydney to a LOT of places far and wide) was operating on a weekend schedule due to the holidays, so my waits between buses and trains were extended.  The YHA hostel I stayed at was decent, as far as hostels go.  They actually do their own wine tour, so naturally I signed up even though I already was waking up early for a hot air balloon ride and wanted to go to the Hunter Valley Gardens afterward to see their Christmas display.  My long journey (and assumption that the valley had some kind of public transport…) had thrown off my plans for the weekend–I had thought I would check out the Gardens Friday night, wine tour Saturday, hot air balloon ride early Sunday morning before I left.  Silly me, making plans.  Fortunately, Potters Brewery is just a few minutes’ walk from the hostel, so I relaxed with some beer and pizza and resigned myself to the long Saturday ahead.

I woke up at 4:15 the next morning (good thing I heard my second alarm!) and shoved some leftover pizza in my face before meeting the shuttle to the Peterson Champagne House (for $15 extra, they picked me up at the hostel).  We split into two groups and from there made our way to the departure point.  Now, as I’ve gotten older, somehow I’ve developed a little more of an aversion to being in the air–I think the idea of turbulence and such things bugs me more.  But after a few minutes in the air, that fear vanished and I was able to enjoy the beautiful surroundings as the sun came up.  After maybe an hour, we were back on the ground.  We helped our awesome operator Yosh to pack up the balloon and then we were off to enjoy our very filling champagne breakfast.

That filling breakfast was necessary, as later in the morning, I was going on the YHA’s wine tour.  I really enjoyed the sparkling moscato at Bimbadgen, the first winery we went to–it was like drinking peaches.  So delicious.  Pretty much everything else that day was more or less white noise, the same types of wines over and over.

I was able to get the tour driver to drop me off at the Hunter Valley Gardens.  The Christmas display didn’t open for a while, so I had a little time to kill.  I had a nice dinner at a restaurant in the shopping village before I moseyed over to the Gardens a little after they reopened at 6:30.  I had intended to wander around the gardens a bit to see them in the daylight, but there were hordes of people waiting for the Christmas display to open, so I decided I would stick close to the gate leading to the holiday lights so I could be ahead of the crowds.  I ended up making friends with a British woman living in northern Idaho, and we hung out for the rest of the evening, checking out the gardens and taking a long ride on the Ferris wheel–she was even nice enough to drive me back to my hostel.

I had made friends with one of my hostel roommates, and as we waited for the shuttle back to town so we could get the train back to Sydney, we chatted with another girl, Katie, who was also travelling through Sydney.  Katie was staying in the Blue Mountains but hoped to see the fireworks in Sydney on New Year’s Eve, figuring she would take the train back to Katoomba after the fireworks.  It occurred to me during our train ride back to Sydney that I could pay forward the generosity that people had shown me on this trip by offering to have Katie stay over at my place–the homeowners had already given their blessing to do so and they weren’t going to be here, so why not?

So Tuesday Katie joined me in Balmain, where we walked around and scoped out how many people were going to be watching the fireworks from the parks by the Balmain East Wharf.  We worried that there would be a lot of them, and there weren’t as many as we’d expected, but enough that we came back to the house, got our stuff, got some snacks at the grocery store, and came back to the park, where we camped for 8 hours.  We talked to one of our neighbors, who offered us wine since we had nothing to drink but water (even though all the viewing spots were supposed to be alcohol-free, police didn’t seem too concerned with the large amounts of alcohol being openly consumed).

There was a short fireworks show at 9 for families with young children who couldn’t make it to midnight.  That was just a teaser for the real show at midnight, which was 12 minutes long and so incredibly worth the 8-hour wait.  Every time we thought the show was coming to an end, the fireworks just kept rolling on.

So that’s the roundup of what I’ve been up to.  Katie invited me to hang out with her in Tasmania for a few days, so I’m leaving Tuesday and have been planning that trip all this morning.  Happy new year everyone, and I hope it includes lots of adventures for you!